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Posts Tagged ‘Cycle Paths’

One thing that really upsets me about cycling in the UK is how difficult it is to cycle with young children.  The ideal situation would be for children to cycle to school and the shops alongside their parents, however unlike in Holland where this is common place, in this country the roads are far too dangerous for the very young cyclist. The cycle paths are  not properly separated and don’t join up with each other making them useless for everyday transport.  The only family cycling we see in the UK is leisure cycling and here is the rub, to do it,  you need a car to get to the safe cycle paths!  To get to safe infrastructure  a family will usually have to negotiate  main roads and this is not safe when cycling with small children.

Yesterday we decided to attempt a family cycle ride at the local park and ride.  The large car park is closed on a Sunday so makes an ideal spot for a little cycle practice.  It also has some dirt tracks behind it which are just about passable in good weather.  The tricky bit was how to get there with no car.  Fortunately the road that leads to the Park and Ride has pavement or separated cycle path so my boy can ride there, however the road is too fast and the pavement too narrow for my little girl, who is only just learning to cycle.  So to make the journey the little nipper sat on a cushion on the back of my bicycle and her bicycle was pulled along behind in a trailer.

Once at the park and ride we had a great time riding around, imagining we were in a world without cars.

It was wonderful to cycle as a family again, something we haven’t done since our holiday last year in Assen.  We only had to ride a couple of pavements to get to the park and ride and will be making this a regular trip.  The really annoying thing is we still can’t cycle together on our everyday trips to the shops. Until the children are older or we get proper Dutch style infrastructure our family cycling will have to be occasional and not everyday.

Best

Nipper

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I haven’t blogged for some time but it’s time to get things moving again.  So before I launch into rants about crap cycling in Taunton… a little fun. Last week the members of Taunton Tweed Cycle Chic took to the cycle paths and rode from Vivary Park to Maunsell Lock.  The weather was hot, hot, hot so we only managed Tweed through town, but with bells ringing and loud ‘Good Mornings’ we certainly got noticed. Thanks go to Brian from Bicycle Chain for leading us off. We stopped for lunch at the canal side cafe and strummed ukuleles using the new ‘Bicycle and Ukulele Saddlebag Song Book’ (Post a comment for a free copy!).  So here for you delectation are a few photographs of the day set to a toe tapping soundtrack from Django Reinhardt.

The ride was great fun, because of the superb weather and the great company but also because the majority of the ride was car free and on separate infrastucture.

Best

Nipper

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I have always been car free, never even driven one, I don’t actually know what the pedals do.  It was never a really big lifestyle choice, I cycled to school and to friends houses and just never felt the need to travel any other way.  When I was 17 I began touring and 100 miles a day was a breeze, I could go anywhere by bike.

My first cycle rides were on the narrow lanes around the village where I grew up.  I remember many wonderful family rides, zooming around the Somerset levels and stopping for picnic lunches.  We almost never saw a car and the sun always shone…happy days.

In 1990 a  most significant cycling moment came with my first ‘Young Bell Ringers Cycling Tour‘, a week long adventure ringing in churches around Oxfordshire.  We stayed in youth hostels and cycled to around six towers a day.  The 30 strong group of cyclists made quite an impression on me and I knew then that I would always want to make the bicycle my primary mode of transport.  I went on two further tours and remember them with great affection.  Geoff the organiser has continued to run the tours and I am sure has inspired many more young people to become serious cyclists.

Fast forward 20 years…I am married with two young children and a demanding full time job.  I no longer have time for endless days of touring but I still ride my bike every day.  I have a trailer for shopping and to take the children around and ride to work every day. I  love the feeling of whizzing along and day dreaming about the long summer days of my youth.

OK, so I know I have rather rose tinted spectacles on when it comes to my memories of childhood cycling, but the point is I have positive memories of cycling from a very early age.  In my teenage years I flew around everywhere by bicycle and just remember the pure freedom it gave me. Are today’s children having the same positive experiences? Some maybe, but with the roads increasingly clogged by maniacal car, van and lorry drivers the experience of those lucky enough to be allowed out on a bike is likely to be much less satisfying.  The 21st century teenager is probably far more likely to be a car driver or passenger than to be using a bicycle for daily transport.

If we are to see more young people cycling we have to make it feel safe and fast.  The only way I can see this being achieved is if we adopt the Dutch model of segregated infrastructure.  When parents feel cycling is safe they will begin to use the bicycle for everyday transport and children will be able to cycle to safely school.  Cycling children will become cycling adults.

Best

Nipper

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I have recently been commenting on blogs and forums about the need for better separated cycle paths.  I am totally committed to the cycling strategies that have actually worked in Holland and Denmark.  I want to live in a quiet, clean and safe town and removing a large proportion of cars is the only way to achieve this.  Blogs from Copenhaganize and David Hembrow show how high quality separated cycle paths and other traffic calming measures can increase cycle use by massive amounts and so actually make the difference.  Most people I talk to including cyclists think this is a crazy idea and “Can’t see it working over here”.

So here goes, let’s see if it might be possible to change Taunton from a car nightmare to a cycling heaven.

  • Taunton is flat. There are a few bumps but nothing to worry about. So we can get people on their bikes a for around town journeys without any worry about hills.
  • Taunton is compact. Half all journeys by car are less than 5 miles and a quarter less than 2 miles.  Anyone who lives in Taunton will travel less than 5 miles  to shop or work within the town.  This means they could easily replace the car with the bike.
  • Taunton has good weather. As Taunton is located in the south west of the UK the weather here is good.  It is certainly milder than in Denmark!
  • Taunton nearly has a good network of cycle paths. The town is compact and so a few paths can make a huge difference.  There are some good paths, that, with some resurfacing and a little care to join them up would provide the basis for a great network.  There are some dangerous paths, but these could be removed and some of the worst offenders would go if  the whole town centre was made car free.  This could easily be done and would allow the safe linking of all the major separated paths currently in use.   There is much to be done but the problems are not insurmountable and the network could be transformed in a very short time if only the will was there to do it.
  • Changing priorities is simple. It would not be difficult to give bikes on bike paths the right of way at all junctions.  Adopting the Dutch system for paths would require some redesign but the roads are big enough and we could lay the curbs and paint the lines IF WE WANTED TOO.
  • 20 MPH works. Some parts of Taunton already have 20mph limits and a town wide scheme would calm traffic down, saving life and limb, and making walking and cycling more attractive.  It would not change journey times much as the town is compact and journeys are short.
  • Much less on street parking is possible. Many streets could be improved if on street parking was totally banned.  There needs to be a commitment to reducing on street parking and if we make a start, even small reductions, could make a huge difference.

Taunton could with relatively little cost become the best cycling town in the UK.  If spending was moved from car infrastructure to bicycle we could make many of the changes in a very short time, maybe just a year or two.  Will this happen?  Probably not, because the council lacks vision, and most people are selfish when it comes to their car use. The main thing is it would not be impossible or a far distant dream, all we need is the will from people to stop driving the short, flat journeys they make around town and to get on two wheels.

Best

Nipper

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Those of you clicking my ukulele links will know that I teach ukulele to primary age school children. Children who learn to play an instrument when they are young benifit from improvements in their literacy and numarcy skills and of course will hopefully develop a life long love of music making.

In Holland they take cycling seriously and it no small surprize that this begins at school.  Children who cycle to school benifit from better health, a much safer environment in which to travel and they will also hopefully develop a life long love of cycling.

There is much in common here, learning to play a musical instrument and using a bicycle as a primary means of transport, both make sense. Both provide benefits for health and well-being and can help lead to a more intelligent and cohesive society. Both need to start at school and become an everyday part of life. While music making is part of the National Curriculum and taught to every child, every week, cycling remains an option, with most schools doing nothing, or at best a couple of days  training in year six.

Perhaps the biggest issue for children cycling to school is the lack of safe routes.

I read the marvellous blog ‘A view from the cycle path’ by David Hembrow and today saw his video of  children cycling to primary school in Holland.  The children don’t have to suffer the danger of cars and they are learning to treat the cycle as an everyday means of transport.  This is how children in the UK should be getting to and from school.  As in Holland, the roads should be cleared of cars to allow the children and their parents safe passage.  The car is poisening our society as it stops us experiencing real freedom and makes normal life much more dangerous.

Take a look at the video, it is a real eye opener to anyone who has experienced the car frenzy outside most UK primary schools every morning and evening. Notice also the totally lack of any cycle helmets or lurid yellow jackets as chilcren and adults cycle safely to school!

In the UK Sustrans is claiming to promote ‘Safe Routes to School’. I have checked their website and they don’t seem to have a video showing a UK school with real safe routes.  I wonder if this is because real safe routes just don’t exist for UK children. Does anyone know of any?

Best

Nipper

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workplaceCycleChallenge Riding my folding bike into work on Thursday I was thrilled to see a council stand on the High Street promoting cycling.  A lovely young lady stood behind a table containing a couple of leaflets and three maps.  To her side was a bike and behind her the poster you see at the top of this post.  It turned out she didn’t really know much about cycling (this was not her department) and apart from entering people who cycle for 10 minutes during the next two weeks into a prize draw, Somerset is not actually doing  much else to promote cycling.

So I complemented her on the fact that the people in the poster were dressed normally, but lamented that they and indeed everyone else on every leaflet was wearing a helmet.  Well this is where it got interesting, apparently in the original poster they had no helmets, but the council bosses (car drivers?) had insisted the helmets were added.  In case you are new to the helmet debate here is a website with all the scientific evidence for and against there use,

http://cyclehelmets.org/index.html

Well I went on to talk about how actually putting in new cycle paths and JOINING UP EXISTING PATHS might be a good way to promote cycling in Taunton. It has worked in Copenhagen.  I also noted that the bicycle which was to be the prize in the draw was a men’s bike with narrow tyres, no mudguards and a ‘sports’ riding position, all of which are not good for cycle commuting or attracting women to ride more.

When I got home I checked the Moving Somerset Forward website to see if there was anything else going on I might have missed.  The website is… well… rubbish!  It has no real information of any consequence and it really doesn’t get down to any detail and help people to become everyday cyclists. It would not be difficult to do a better job and get it right, they have managed to do a pretty good job in London.

420x420aspx-thumbThe lady in the London poster looks a little more comfortable on a bike than the helmeted nutters in the Somerset one!

So is there any good news?  I managed to get three free cycle route maps.  It is just a shame that there are no new paths actually being built and there are no plans to join up the existing ones to make them usable… or remove the dangerous ones… or resurface the potholed ones.  Somerset is standing still not moving forward.

BSY

Nipper

Postscript: While cycling to work on Friday I was greeted by a large group (six or seven) of ‘never been seen before’ commuters puffing away on racing and mountain bikes.  They were wearing those little laminated neck tags that showed them to be council workers on their way to County Hall.  They were riding illegally across the pedestrian crossing and then proceeding along the pavements towards their offices.  I assume they were breaking the law to avoid the dangerous and copious amount of motor cars on the road.   They were  like me probably thinking that there should be a cycle path, unfortunately they will probably have forgotten about it in a couple of weeks when they will once again be in their cars.  They may even be wondering why the bloke on his little folding bike is riding down the High Street again; there is after all a by-law against that!

After a little bit of discussion (read the comments) about being positive with the nice chap over at Ecovelo, I should perhaps say that there is a website where we can monitor  ‘live’ the cycling progress of the Workplace Challange.  I do hope it is a success and the sheer weight of numbers of commutors will shame the council into improving the cycle paths in Taunton and elsewhere across Somerset.

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So the summer is really here and the number of bicycles on Taunton’s roads has increased substantially.  Riding to work this week I have noticed many more women cycling to work, indeed it seems that while men are happy to clog up the roads in their cars the ladys of Taunton are on two wheels.  I was also delighted to note that they were  dressed cycle chic and riding sensible bikes, let’s hope this is a continuing trend.

800px-Hestercombe_House_and_Garden

I have spent the last two days at Hestercombe house and have relished the change in commute to this beautiful place. The quickest  most direct route to the house takes in some reasonable cycle paths but as with all cycling in Taunton, before you know it you’re being spat out onto big, busy main roads with complicated junctions.  Despite this the journeys only featured one impatient driver over taking and then being forced to brake hard…why do they do that?

This evening I rode home with my friend Fran and so we decided to take the scenic (twice the distance) cycle path route.  Rather excitingly Fran showed me a whole new cycle path from the centre of town out to the village where I live.  It avoids the nasty and dangerous Wellington Road (every cyclist in Taunton seems to have a tale of being knocked off somewhere on it) and runs alongside the river giving the proper car free Dutch experience.  So I should be happy… well I’m not, because although it is a designated cycle path, it is a cross country route running through fields on narrow rutted dirt tracks.  It will be impassible for most of the year and is not actually a viable alternative route into the town.  For a fraction of the cost of road works this lovely route could be paved and become a great commuter route for those living to the south of Taunton.

This got me thinking about all these new cycle commuters, will they be on their bikes next week?  We are due rain and I fear this may put them off.  It would however be much easier to persuade them to keep commuting by bicycle if we had a proper joined up cycle path system that used pleasant and direct routes into the town centre, and when those routes could be car free it could really promote a change.

In the spirit of happy rain soaked English summers here is indie ukulele  man Darren Hayman with ‘Rain all Summertime’ taken from the Ukulele Songs From The North Devon Coast EP.  Darren is not only playing uke but is also enjoying a little cycling too.

Let’s hope that like Darren the new cycle commuters won’t mind the rain and will keep cycling.

BSY

Nipper

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